I won the lottery!

A little over a week ago I was watering at the school garden when I spotted a tiny little caterpillar munching away on an equally tiny milkweed seedling that had volunteered to be a part of my pollinator paradise. Even though the caterpillar was perfectly suited to it’s current selection of host plants, I was highly skeptical that there would be enough food to satisfy it’s appetite. Afterall, this was a very hungry caterpillar. So with the task of watering completed, I gently picked the leaf it was on, carefully placed it in my bike trailer, and headed home.

A very tiny and very hungry monarch caterpillar.

My kids were all crowded together at the top of our driveway, and as I pedaled up I excitedly exclaimed “wait until you guys see the caterpillar I found!” To which they replied “wait until you see the caterpillar we found!” And my littlest held up a stick with the biggest, most glorious caterpillar I have met to date. And I felt like I had won the lottery….well at least as far as caterpillar watching goes.

Look at the size of this Polyphemus caterpillar! So beautiful, and I suspect on the hunt for a safe place to spin its cocoon.

We moved it into the backyard herb garden and I did what any normal, rational person would do…I took 1593 photos to document this discovery. (This is what you would do to, right???) I am fairly certain it is the caterpillar of the Polyphemus moth, Antheraea polyphemus. We were lucky enough to find the adult moth last summer on our front porch. My kids actually found the moth then too, and called me over to see what the giant flying spider was! I see where they were coming from – it does have huge legs!

I pretty much watched the caterpillar crawl through the garden until the sun went down. And after the kids had gone inside, and I was left alone in the quiet, I could actually hear it moving through the parsley. I did pull myself away long enough to get my tiny monarch caterpillar (Danaus plexippus) settled into my newly planted milkweed bed. I watched it grow, and grow and grow until it unfortunately became someone else’s meal. But such is the circle of life.

The monarch caterpillar was growing so fast and then suddenly it wasn’t there anymore.

Before heading in myself, I checked on the Black Swallowtail egg (Papilio polyxenes asterius) that I had watched being laid a few days prior. It looked pretty close to hatching! Since then, the caterpillar has indeed hatched, along with a second one I didn’t know was there. They are chugging along, slowly eating through my parsley patch and it is fun to watch them grow and change as they go from one instar to the next. I also happened to find 2 fully grown Black swallowtail cats on my dill plants this afternoon.

Okay, maybe I didn’t win the lottery…but I do feel pretty lucky to get to see all this amazing biodiversity up close. It gives me hope that we can turn the insect armageddon around – and really what is better than that?

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